The estate of things

A few years ago it seemed that every time I visited my mother I left with a bag or box full of “treasures” she was giving to me. I finally asked her about this sudden urge to get rid of things. She told me “It took me 30 years to collect all this junk… It will take me another 30 to get rid of it.”

Last week as my sister and I were sorting through my mother’s things as part of the process of closing her estate I remembered Mom saying that to me.  Yet there we were going through her collection of assorted things which, I am sure, had specific stories and memories attached to them. But for us not knowing the stories or possessing the memory it was just things to look at and wonder what to do with them.

Some things we recognized but they still provided surprise. I was amazed to find detailed scrapbooks of my career containing articles and pictures I had not saved and letters and cards I sent her which she had tucked away. It was bittersweet to look at them – some representing correspondence where we were disagreeing. I wished I had written more of my memories and gratitude and less of my trying to get her to think, believe and act as I wanted her to, and as she never could.

Part of me wanted to box all this stuff up and bring it home. But within me I knew I do not need all of these things to have memories, the things are not my legacy.  A few well-chosen mementos are enough. Better we should give things to those who need them and want them rather than to keep them in boxes or unused on the shelf.

To take any proceeds from liquidating some of these things and use it to feed families or educate children will serve her memory and her faith better than building a museum to her in the china cabinet, bookshelf, attic or basement.

As we loaded a few things into the car to drive home I could almost hear her laughing. I am now learning the lessons she learned – memories are what we need to make and to keep. Stuff we can get rid of… Because the more we possess the more it possesses us.


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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